Education and School Ethnography [Qualitative Research Methods Elective Basket

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSES2012174

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Gunjan Sharma

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: It is desirable that the participants have taken the course Introduction to Education Research


Ethnography has emerged from the discipline of anthropology and community-based sociological research. As a methodological tradition it is shaped by a view about the social world and social inquiry, situated in these two disciplines. While there are several school and education ethnographies, there have been debates of various kinds about the ‘application’ of the method to research in education. Equally significant (yet less highlighted) is the question that given its disciplinary origins how well traditional ethnography elicits ‘school/educational reality’. Against this backdrop, this course will revolve around school/education ethnography – its application, contributions and critiques. To this end, the student will be introduced to certain seminal ethnographies in education, the debates in the field and the approaches to fieldwork. Through short field based assignments students will be introduced to the relevant tools and techniques.

Course Outcomes:

By the end of the course the participants will be able to:

  1. Appreciate ethnography as a methodology for qualitative research in education as they identify unique features and challenges of ethnography in education
  2. Formulatequalitative research questions, develop certain tools, collect and interpret data
  3. Read ethnographic findings critically
  4. Engage with the issues of positionality and ethics in ethnographic research

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

1. Ethnographies in school context: (3 weeks)

This module will introduce the students to certain seminal ethnographic researches done in educational/school context and in anthropology. By building on the work done in the introductory course in research, the discussions will situate ‘ethnography’ as a method of research in social sciences (with reference to other methods).

2. Organization, ‘culture’ and community: (2 weeks)

This unit will revolve around reflecting on the various field-site focuses of education ethnographies. In this process, it intends to build an understanding of school ethnography as an inquiry that conceives school as a social/cultural institution.

3. Fieldwork and data collection: ‘Being there’ (3 weeks)

Around certain selected field based works, the group will engage in understanding some ways in which fieldwork has been presented by researchers. This will revolve around questions like: How does a researcher understand the field? How does s/he relate to the community and the institution? How does s/he collect data? What ‘goals’ does s/he bear in mind? What are the varied kinds of roles that the people from the community assume vis-à-vis the research?

4. Ethnographic ‘perspective’ and interpretations: (4 weeks)

Building on the work done in the introductory course and non-school based field attachment, the discussions will focus on the nature of qualitative collected, its analyses and writing. The classroom sessions will critically examine the ‘techniques’ focused approach to school ethnography vis-à-vis that of interpreting school culture – and will discuss the features of a good ethnography.

Assessment Details with weights:

  1. Participation (10%)
  2. Review of an ethnographic study (30%)
  3. Short field-based assignment (30%)
  4. End-term examination (40%)

Reading List:

  • Erickson, F. (1984). What Makes School Ethnography "Ethnographic"? Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Vol. 15, 51-66.
  • Denzin, N, and Lincoln, Y. S. (2011). Introduction: The discipline and practice of qualitative research. In Denzin, N, and Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.) The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (4th ed.) (pp. 1-18). London: SAGE Publications
  • Thapan, M. (1991). Life at school: An ethnographic study, pp. 229 – 245. Delhi: OUP. [Chapter 1: School Organization the ‘transcendental’ and the ‘local’ orders and Chapter 4: Teacher Interaction: Formal and Informal]
  • Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labor: How working class kids get working class jobs. pp. 1-7. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Ballentine, J. H. (1997). The school as an organization. In The sociology of education: A systematic analysis (pp. 128-146). NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • The Penguin dictionary of Sociology (1994). Institutions (pp. 126-127). London: Penguin.
  • Wolfinger, N. S. (2002). On writing fieldnotes: collection strategies and background expectancies. In Qualitative Research (pp. 85-95). Delhi: SAGE Publications
  • Sarangapani, P.M. (1997). Social experience and child’s construction of knowledge. (PhD thesis – Chapter 3)
  • Sharma, G. (2013). Politics of institutional knowledge and exclusion. (PhD thesis – Chapter 3)
  • Srinivas, M.N., A.M. Shah, E.A. Ramaswamy. (2002). Fieldworker and the field: Problems and challenges in sociological investigation, pp. 2 – 14. OUP.
  • Geertz, C. (1983): "Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture". In: The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York: Basic Books, p. 3-30.
  • Fetterman, D. M. (Ed.) (1984). Ethnography in educational evaluation. Sage new delhi. 1984. [Chapter 2: Ethnography in educational research: The dynamics of diffusion, (pp. 21-36) (CIE library: 001.4).]
  • Wilson, S. (1977). The use of ethnographic techniques in educational research. Review of Educational Research, 47(1), 245-265. (Electronic copy available)
  • Martyn, H. (2000). The relevance of qualitative research. Oxford Review of Education, 26(3/4), The Relevance of Educational Research, 393-405. Stable URL:
  • Denzin, N, and Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2011). The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (4th ed.). London: SAGE Publications (Two chapters from part IV).
  • 20 page selection to be presented by the course teacher from the following:
  • Sarangapani, P.M. (2003). Constructing school knowledge: An ethnography of learning in an Indian village. New Delhi: Sage.
  • Sharma, G. (2013). Politics of institutional knowledge and exclusion. Unpublished PhD thesis submitted to the Department of Education, University of Delhi.
  • Thapan, M. (1991). Life at school: An ethnographic study. Delhi: OUP. (10 page selection)
  • Srivastava, S. (1998). Constructing post-colonial India: national character and the Doon school. London: Routledge.
  • Malinowski, B. (1922). Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: George Routledge. (Selections: (Preface, Foreword, Acknowledgements, Table of contents) [Also on:]
  • Mead, M. (1928). Coming of age in Samoa: A psychological study of primitive youth for western civilisation. New York, Mentor.

Additional readings:

  • Parsons, T. (1968). The school slass as a social system: Some of its functions in American society. Harvard Educational Review, Reprint Series, No. 1, 69-90.
  • Khleif, B. B. (1971). The school as a small society. In Murray L. Wax, Stanley Diamond, and Fred O. Gearing (Eds.), Anthropological Perspectives on Education (pp. 145-155). New York: Basic Books.
  • Chapman, T.K. (2007). The power of context: teaching and learning in recently desegregated schools. Anthropological and educational quaterly, 3(38), 297-315.
  • LeCompte, M. D. and Goetz, J. P. (1982). Problems of reliability and validity in ethnographic research. Review of Educational Research, 52(1), 31-60.
  • Schmid, T. J. (1992). Classroom-based ethnography: A research pedagogy. Teaching sociology, 20(1), 28-35.
  • Thapan, M. (1986). Lifting the veils: Fieldwork in a public school in south India. Economic and Political Weekly, 21(49), 2133-2139. Stable URL:
  • Wolcott, Harry F. (1971). Handle with care: Necessary precautions in the anthropology of schools. In Murray L. Wax, Stanley Diamond, and Fred O. Gearing (Eds.), Anthropological Perspectives on Education (pp. 145-155). New York: Basic Books. (To be procured)
  • Hammersley, M. (2005). Ethnography: problems and prospects. Talk given in the Qualitative Research Methodology Seminar Series, January, 2005, organised by School of Nursing and Midwifery and the School of Education, University of Southampton, and sponsored by the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods.
  • Eisenhart, M. (2001). Educational ethnography past, present, and future: Ideas to think with. Educational Researcher, 30(8), pp. 16-27. Stable URL: